Tuesday, October 14, 2008

When Good Ideas Go Bad

Contests that truly engage customers can build product interest and, if the contesting concepts are really strong, can also enhance the brand.

In the early introduction of Saturn the then-new GM division was trying to distance itself from all the cliches of the car business, including pushy salesmen, cold and barn-like showrooms and, especially, having to negotiate (AKA haggle) a final price.

The Saturn brand, on the other hand, was approachable, friendly, human. The showrooms they built looked - and functioned - more like living rooms than car dealerships, and the price on the sticker was the price you paid. No haggling allowed.

Ad agency Hal Riney & Partners called Saturn "A New Kind of Car Company. A New Kind of Car. " And meant it.

In order to get potential customers into showrooms - and prove that they meant it - they devised a contest that supported the promise while delivering another "brand touch point."

Drivers were invited to visit a nearby Saturn dealership (which they insisted on calling a "retailer") to register to win one of the new cars - and you would fly to the Saturn factory in Tennessee and help build your car. Yes, you would stand with workers and watch - and help - them build the car you won.

It was a huge success ten of thousands visited Saturn "retailers," got to look at the cars "up close and personal" and also register for the contest. A wonderful way of using a contest to both increase store traffic as well as underscore a key selling proposition.

I was reminded this morning how bad a contest can go.

Leading Hotels of the World wanted to draw attention to the fact that the innkeeper was 80 years old, founded in 1928, and it was time for a celebration. So they decided to field an online sweepstakes offering potential customers a chance to win two nights in one of the luxury hotels all over the world paying just $19.28 a night - and each hotel would have a winner.

Sounds like a contest that would generate some interest and it did. But for all the wrong reasons.